Process

191. Boris Strikes Back

January 26, 2021

Creating a good piece of content is a bit like pair programming, except you get to steer the wheel without ever having to listen to your navigator. With a bunch of hot Udemy courses under his belt and his book Pandas in Action about to hit the shelves, Stride full-stack developer Boris Paskhaver knows a thing or two about creating content, and he joins us today to give us some better tips than the one you just heard! We start by picking Boris’s brain about just what makes Udemy such a great platform to learn from, and then we dive into the pros and cons of creating content for video versus book formats. From there, Boris shares a few pointers for those who would like to become content creators but always find an excuse not to. Getting into content creation is like forming any good habit. It’s all about starting small and then taking incremental steps, iterating on the quality of your content and the time you spend making it as you go. We also hear him suggest that would-be content creators shouldn’t shy away from creating content if they think they are too close to the beginning of their own learning journey. In fact, they will be closer to the aha moment than a dev who learned a particular concept five years ago. So have a listen to today’s show, work out how to switch on your mic, and go out there to make that video about how to declare a variable!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Introducing Boris, his dev work, his new book, and the content he puts out on Udemy.
  • Why Udemy is the best platform for learning how to code and much more.
  • Boris’s perspectives on the advantages of teaching on video over writing a book.
  • Programming books with 3D popups: The future of making books more exciting.
  • The advantages of conveying and learning information via the book format.
  • Tips from Boris for people who want to get into content creation.
  • Getting into new habits by starting with the bare minimum and taking incremental steps.
  • Dave tries to form a good habit but ends up forming a bad one.
  • What kinds of content delivery method on video courses work best and worst.

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If you are a software developer or technology leader looking to stay on top of the latest news in the software development world, or just want to learn actionable tactics to improve your day-to-day job performance, this podcast is for you.

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Transcript for Episode 191. Boris Strikes Back

[INTERVIEW]

[0:00:01.7] MN: Boris, tell us a little bit about yourself?

[0:00:03.6] BP: Well, I am a full-stack software developer and consultant here at Stride Consulting in New York City. In my spare time, I also like to build courses on Udemy.com. I have six total courses with 135 hours of premium content. I cover a topic as diverse as Pandas, React, Excel VBA, all kinds of stuff, Ruby. I’m also finishing up writing my first book, which is entitled Pandas in Action which should be published by Manning Publications in a couple of months. I have created content from time to time.

[0:00:35.8] MN: There you go.

[0:00:36.3] DA: Premium content, solid gold. You’re a busy guy and also, you are a consumer of choice content as well?

[0:00:44.3] BP: I am a big consumer of great content as well, that is true. That cannot be said for everyone.

[0:00:50.4] DA: A question that I always have. Online courses are a great resource as a software engineer, trying to learn a new skill. But like, you know, where do I go, there’s so many places, like how do I find the best course for the topic that I want to talk about or I want to learn about?

[0:01:09.1] BP: That’s a great question. I teach on Udemy and I would recommend Udemy. Precisely because it is an open market. Just about every other platform where you might pay for example, subscription fees such as Egghead or LinkedIn Learning or Frontend Masters. It’s a subscription site so there’s usually people, top-brass who are deciding, which courses they want you to teach, they’re hiring specific instructors, they’re limiting the length at which the course can be.

The topics that are taught, et cetera. It kind of is this echo chamber, rather, it’s this isolated ecosystem. Compared to Udemy which is basically an open market, you could teach whatever you want, you can teach a course that’s as long as you want and you can similarly find a course that is whatever topic you seek, if you want a quick five-hour introduction versus a 30-hour massive introduction.

You could find it there, if you want a comprehensive one that covers multiple technologies and how they’re used in tandem with each other, you can find it there, if you’re just looking for an isolated topic, you find it there.

Because anyone can become a teacher there and it’s simply driven by reviews and ratings and what people are interested in, it tends to produce in my opinion higher quality courses that fit more people in whatever they’re looking for.

[0:02:17.7] MN: Udemy just takes anybody and you can create a course and if it’s hot, if it’s solid, then people will go to you, it’s like capitalism.

[0:02:25.8] BP: It’s fantastic, it is the perfect free market, yup. I think as well, like it used to be that the only tech courses you could find online were on programming but Udemy, now you can find cooking courses, you can find like gardening courses, architecture courses, all the stuff that used to – maybe you even have to pay to get a degree in. It’s just out there. Sometimes it’s instructors teaching, sometimes it’s experts and it kind of covers all the bases because of that.

[0:02:46.9] DA: I love that. I feel like there’s a lot more options now than a couple of years ago when it first got started, I haven’t taken too many classes lately. I remember starting out and when like Coursera first came out and they had the machine learning class, I guess like, I mean, in my eyes, pretty legendary, the Stanford machine learning class and that was like all they had or it was like very limited selection and you had to like get on the boat exactly at the time that they were going to leave the dock and then go on that journey with everybody like week by week.

It sounds like this market place offers you a bit more flexibility.

[0:03:26.2] BP: Yeah, and it’s also I think, a lot more reasonably affordable. I think, generally, it covers around 10 to $14 a course and some of them are these gargantuan 65 hours in-depth comprehensive courses compared to sometimes on Corsair I’ve seen you know, hundreds of dollars for a course that’s 10 hours long.

[0:03:44.1] DA: Wow.

[0:03:44.7] MN: Yo, you could look up carpentry classes on Udemy, that’s pretty crazy, I had no idea. It’s just like more than programming at this point. Udemy used to be strictly programming, yeah?

[0:03:53.6] BP: I think the majority of its sales and conversions come from programming courses but you can teach on anything. That’s I think the beauty of it. You can find your audience and your market there.

[0:04:01.3] MN: You know, I could learn how to build a wall with wood bro. That’s a legit course, I think I’m going to do it.

[0:04:06.3] BP: I could take a course on podcasting.

[0:04:08.8] MN: There you go. Well, I’ll be more than happy to teach you Boris, I don’t know much about it but – 

[0:04:12.0] BP: Well, you could teach me but it wouldn’t be monetized, that’s why you got to put it on there.

[0:04:15.1] MN: There you go. 

[0:04:16.3] DA: We could teach Boris and then he could teach the world and make all the money on it.

[0:04:23.2] BP: That’s why you got to be careful.

[0:04:25.1] MN: I got to be careful who I’m teaching, who I’m showing these things, all my choice.

[0:04:27.9] DA: There are no secrets, it’s all open here.

[0:04:31.5] MN: You mentioned before in the intro that not only have you done like Udemy related courses, video and whatnot but you also – there’s like the book, right? You’ve been writing a book. What are some of the differences you would call out when creating content for the sake of video programming related content versus using a physical book and having text print in there where it’s like static?

[0:04:56.7] BP: Yeah, I think I prefer to both consume and create video content. I learn better from video and I feel like I communicate better with video. I think the advantage with the visuals is you can speak more like a human being and teach more like you’re in the room with a person.

When you’re writing a book for example, you have to obsess over every little sentence and how you're communicating a thought and it’s a lot harder to express the nuances of language, you only have some tools at your disposal like bolding a world or italicizing or adding a clause to add context.

But when you're speaking with a person, you allow yourself more flexibility in how you construct a thought or a sentence. There’s many times, even if you, for example, read the transcription of your podcast where if you read it on paper, it’s not an actual valid sentence but when you speak, everybody understands what you’re saying.

[0:05:44.5] MN: I’ve read through the transcripts and I do apologize to people who read them, there’s been a couple of comments. They will get you where you need to go but that’s about it.

[0:05:54.6] BP: That’s totally normal but I think that’s the benefit of visual content is also the audio element of it is that, you have, from an audio perspective, you hear a human being talking to you and you understand all those nuances.

The same thought comes up when it’s talking about video. Whenever you’re looking at a book, all you see is the final code sample. That video captures all these secret details. Like, how the person types it out, perhaps a mistake they made that they corrected. 

The fact that they emphasized a line break here or an indentation here that your eyes may simply skip when reading it in a book format. A video to me, captures all of those little minutiae of what you’re teaching.

The in between, that to me, makes it a lot more effective medium for communicating and for imbibing.

[0:06:42.3] DA: I’m thinking about courses that I’ve found very enjoyable like the instructors are very good at building a rapport or not just instructors but like if you’re just like on YouTube and there’s like a lot of good YouTube tech channels out there.

They’re good at like, just making a connection with you and building a rapport and giving you the information in a very relatable way.

[0:07:08.1] BP: I agree and I think it’s a lot harder to communicate or build a rapport or have an element even of being excited about the content when it comes to book form. How do you show excitement, what is it like? An exclamation mark? Compared to watching a video where you can actually hear the person’s enthusiasm for the content. That can motivate you.

[0:07:26.7] DA: Maybe more pictures?

[0:07:27.5] BP: More pictures. You know what? I like pictures in books but I also – remember the books where you would open the page and the thing would pop-up.

[0:07:34.9] MN: 3D programming book?

[0:07:35.7] DA: My gosh.

[0:07:38.4] BP: That’s missing in adult books nowadays, I really want to bring that back to adult books.

[0:07:43.8] DA: I think you’ve identified a market that does not exist, it’s not being served and we need to get on that, there’s going to be the Stride pop-up book.

[0:07:51.4] BP: Incredible.

[0:07:52.3] MN: Yeah.

[0:07:52.9] DA: Babies first XP book.

[0:07:56.4] MN: Yeah, that would be great. I mean, what happens, like you open it up and it’s just like, ‘The Agile Principles’ and then it just pops up right out the book?

[0:08:02.9] DA: A pairing station’s there and there’s like two people there and they’re a little bit too close now for these times but you know, the gum’s there, the deodorant, two keyboards. Classic.

[0:08:15.9] MN: There you go, 3D pop-up of a pairing station, that’s pretty dope.

[0:08:21.6] DA: Yeah, that’s like great argument for like going through an online class. Is there anything that you found like more effective in a written class?

[0:08:34.1] BP: More effective in a book. Usually, when you’re writing a book, especially for a publisher, it forces you to be a little bit more organized, careful with things like duplication.

Because you have to think critically about the sentences, you’re trying your best to communicate the thought as effectively as possible, this kind of more dedication to each thing you create compared to what video which can be sometimes a little bit more throw away and spontaneous.

I think there are some people who are unlike me and who just simply accept the written format better. There’s something classical to what I think, vintage to it and some people just like having the book under a lamp under a desk and studying at their own pace and re-reading a sentence to me always feels more natural than you know, rewinding a video 10 seconds.

[0:09:14.1] MN: Yeah.

[0:09:14.7] BP: It kind of feels like your own thing.

[0:09:15.7] MN: Yeah.

[0:09:16.2] BP: I see the appeal for some people and why it could be more effective.

[0:09:20.3] DA: Yeah, I guess like as a reference to, I feel like many people learning React in Redux, I did the Egghead course on Redux that Dan Abramov did way back. It was very good at getting me to the place where I needed to be but then like, what I needed to reference it or like remember something.

I think, “Wait, which video was it in, which minute was it that he had that code snippet?” or whatever. Where is it? I think that with a book, I can have a better sense memory of where it is in the book or what part it is or – and if you have a digital book then you can just search it or do whatever. You know, the documentation is there as well.

[0:10:08.6] BP: Yeah, it’s easier to search through text than it is through 50 hours of video and transcript there.

[0:10:14.3] DA: Just going to start from the beginning or maybe do a binary search.

[0:10:18.1] BP: Yeah.

[0:10:20.8] MN: Boris, I’m ready to create content. I’m ready, let’s figure out how to put things on the open market. What are some tips that you have and things in the experience you have creating content online when it comes to – from the ideation to getting it on a platform? What are some things you want to share?

[0:10:38.0] BP: Thanks for the question and I think first of all, Bobby, that you would be an incredible teacher.

[0:10:42.1] MN: You think so?

[0:10:43.1] BP: I think so, I think you would be really fierce competition in the same subject matter.

[0:10:48.0] MN: Okay.

[0:10:49.7] BP: I don’t want to sound super cliché but I think the most important thing is to not obsess over getting the best quality first up, not obsessed about having the perfect curriculum upfront, not overthinking how you want to structure everything but just get into the ebb and flow of creating content.

If you’re passionate about teaching tech, create a five-minute YouTube video and put it online tonight. It doesn’t have to be scripted, it doesn’t even need to be rehearsed. Just to put you into the shoes of, “I’m taking a first step” building up that habit incrementally I think is very important. A lot of people drown very quickly because they start thinking –

“Well, I need this 20-hour course and I need to think about how am I going to get the nice quality microphone and what am I using for my screen recorder,” and how am I structuring the curriculum and am I missing this and what are my competitors having and how am I advertising? All of that starts creating doubt and anxiety compared to incrementally saying, “Well, I am going to create a simple video and I can do that tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll make it a longer video. The day after that I’ll create two sequential videos, then I might think about a 20-minute course,” then I might reflect in the feedback that I’ve gotten and just building it up. 

Then I might get a higher quality microphone and in a weird way, the more you don’t think about, the better it becomes. 

[0:12:02.3] DA: Well, I think how you’re describing is like fundamentally like a lower place Agile thing, where like you’re doing the smallest possible thing that could work that could get you some feedback and then you get the feedback and you learn, be it like feedback from yourself where you’re like, “Damn, that kind of sucked,” or like, “This was good,” or someone actually tells you something. 

[0:12:24.0] BP: But sometimes it’s kind of funny because you know, you build a 20-hour course and then you record it like, “Yeah, I really don’t like my voice and how I speak,” and it’s like, if you had practice recording a little bit before, you would have identified those things earlier. The same thing with how you prep content, same with how you deliver and how you edit your videos, what platforms you want to go to. All that stuff you figure out when you start doing that, when you start theorizing. 

[0:12:44.4] DA: Yeah, I think we talked a little bit about this like a couple of episodes back to in 189, Resetting in a New Year, about how like, a lot of habit forming and kind of restarting yourself is just like, doing the smallest thing and then kind of celebrating that and continuing through and then everything that you do passed the first minute is just bonus.

[0:13:10.6] BP: Absolutely. There is a great book called Atomic Habits by James Clear, where he talks about a very similar idea being that whenever you want to start a habit, you do not want to aim for the stars. You want to start with the bare minimum. If you want to hit the gym more, he literally recommends for a week just show up to the gym and leave, like just get to the habit of this is, you know, this is something I’m doing regularly I’m getting out of bed.

Then after a certain point, you say, “Well, I’m at the gym, I might as well pick up a weight but I’ll work out for 10 minutes,” and he actually says if you look at the settings on this, then a lot of people actually end up committing more so than the people who have the New Year’s resolutions and go to the gym the first day for an hour and go hard and the next day they give up. Incremental small changes and experiments over long sustained period of time with a lot of patience tends to yield better results. 

[0:13:56.5] DA: I did try that with the gym thing one time and you know, I just showed up and I looked around and then I went to Five Guys and it was like, “Oh wait, I did not build an effective habit.” 

[0:14:07.5] MN: Did you go to Five Guys every time you went to the gym? Was that what end up happening? Because that would be wild. 

[0:14:12.4] DA: No, not every time but like it was adjacent. I feel like there’s some kind of geo location market going on where you know? 

[0:14:20.2] MN: It’s just like you wanted to get into the habit of going into the gym but you ended up gaining a habit to going to Five Guys. 

[0:14:27.3] BP: That would be the worst creation of a habit. 

[0:14:29.3] DA: Just bulking up, getting real bulky. 

[0:14:31.8] MN: There you go, so small incremental addition to this content that you are creating, little by little, slow and steady, don’t look at anyone else, just focus on just you putting your content out there. 

[0:14:48.3] BP: Yes and I would also say try to drown the doubt. I remember many times when I talk to developers who are a little more inexperienced than me, I say, “You know you should put content out there. Put out a Medium article or put out a tutorial on YouTube,” and the number one question they say is, “Well, how can I put anything out if I am just a good junior developer? I know I know nothing.” I’m like, “Well, you know more than anybody who’s never coded before.” 

If fact, many times, you have a huge advantage because you’re closer to the “aha moment”. You’re closer to the point where you realize how something work and you’re better equipped many times to explain it to somebody new than somebody who may be a senior developer with five years of experience who has forgotten how hard it was to grasp that concept first. No matter where you’re are, you always have some content that you can create. 

Some unique market advantage that you can offer and how you deliver it, so like just kind of get out there and put it without overthinking it and then once you get the flow of it, then maybe then you could start comparing. “Well, what are my competitors doing? What do I want to do? How do I want to stand out?” But you just got to pick it up. 

[0:15:50.2] DA: There is like that idea of similar to like put that argument for a very diverse team is like everyone has like a very different background that they bring to the problem and that can put a new lens for the information that you are looking at and when you are learning something new for the first time like you’re saying, you are closer to the “aha moment” and not only that but you may not have had content that spoke to you very specifically. 

But that is your chance to crystalize it and put it out there for other people who are in a similar state as you. 

[0:16:26.7] BP: Absolutely. I mean, 99% of the world doesn’t code so there is a huge market, even if you want to teach how to declare a variable. 

[0:16:34.2] DA: Yeah, 2021 just get in here to declare a variable, that’s your resolution. 

[0:16:40.2] BP: As silly as it sounds I mean if you literally record a video on how to declare a variable, you will learn a ton about how to set up your microphone, how you speak, how you sound, how you edit. Believe me, like even that one-minute video is a perfect place to start. 

[0:16:54.2] DA: When you’ve kind of gotten past that point and you’re entering or honing in and I think this is something that will be helpful for people who are also not trying to create content right now but just trying to find a good video. What sets apart the good video content from the trash? 

[0:17:15.4] BP: That’s a great question and it somewhat depends on the learner. The videos that get closer to showing you how it’s done in reality tend to be the ones that are one of my favorite courses, my favorite courses tend to be ones where it maybe something like a React course but in order to render, you know, data in React you have to make a JSON API call, you know? All of a sudden, you’re watching this course of a developer and you are marveling at the fact that you just bought a React course but you learn so much about completely other random things. 

It feels like an actual day at the job compared to a course that is just kind of one technology and showing you, this is feature A, feature B. That’s probably I think the greatest criticism I would give myself over my course is that they’re a little isolated in their box about what they’re teaching but when it feels like a regular day at the job and when the instructor feels somebody who is sympathetic and human and friendly and doesn’t feel like an academic, you know, intellectual instructor. 

 

It just feels like a buddy who is teaching you something, I think those are the courses that I do best with and that’s what works well for me. 

[0:18:17.6] DA: It sounds kind of like a pair programming session. 

[0:18:20.5] BP: Exactly, where you’re the only one who could talk. 

[0:18:22.8] DA: Yeah, exactly.

[0:18:25.0] MN: You’re driving, you’re not listening to me. You’re driving not listening to the navigator just going off. 

[0:18:31.4] DA: Yeah, maybe a little toxic in a pair programming session but at least you’re communicating your thoughts and like, externalizing what’s inside. You know, all of those things like, “Oh, maybe I need to do this,” if it’s a video, you can’t just be silent.

[0:18:46.8] BP: You know what? We laughed about it but that’s such an incredible piece of advice because now that I think about it, some of the worth videos I watched are the ones where the person is almost soloing. They’re like, “So I’m going to write this line out and it is going to create a box in the page,” and then they don’t talk about what the line is, what the intent is like and I am just going to write it out precisely. If you are pairing with somebody, you have to describe the why first and then you implement it and I think that’s a big thing. 

Another thing that I absolutely hate in courses is the one where they just paste the code on the screen and they talk about the sample. For me, I love when they actually write it out. You capture all the little new ounces of what it means then, what this line is doing, what we’re doing here. That helps fill in the gaps. 

[0:19:23.9] DA: Code never comes fully-formed like you know, out of Zeus’s forehead or whatever that myth is.

[0:19:31.2] BP: Yeah.

[0:19:33.4] DA: There you have it. Boris Paskhaver pair programming with the world.

[0:19:38.5] MN: There you go.

[0:19:39.1] DA: One video course at a time. 

[0:19:40.9] BP: One course at a time, yeah. It’s the key take away. Basically imagine you are pair programming with yourself. That is how to create great content one increment at a time. 

[0:19:52.1] MN: Right, you get the little rubber duck and you rubber duck the bug with the duck and just have it record and then your viewers are the ducks all day. Yo, I love that Mohawk, that duck Mohawk is pretty dope. 

[0:20:03.6] DA: This is the only listener that you need for the podcast or for the video content.

[0:20:10.7] MN: There you go. 

[0:20:11.5] DA: Little duck. 

[0:20:12.6] MN: Boris, you got anything to promote? What’s going on with your life? What’s going on? 

[0:20:15.3] BP: Yeah, well I have my Udemy courses. You can search for my name, Boris Paskhaver on Udemy. They should pop-up. I think if you actually search Boris, you might find me there pretty good. 

[0:20:24.9] DA: Number one Boris. 

[0:20:26.2] BP: I’m basically like the Madonna of courses.

[0:20:30.1] MN: Yo, the SEO is real.

[0:20:33.3] BP: You search Boris on Udemy, that’s Udemy, you’ll find my courses. If you are interested in learning Pandas, that’s what my book is about. Panda is a debt analysis library built on top of Python. I like to call it Excel on steroids. If you are curious about that, you can find the link in the description at manning.com. The book will be available in print form later this year. 

[0:20:52.8] MN: Well awesome, sounds good.

[0:20:55.4] DA: I’m so impressed. I tested it because I didn’t believe it. I was like, “No way that that’s true,” but number one result. 

[0:21:00.3] MN: Yo, hold on and it’s like the first, the first five. The first five bro, you got the first five and the next person’s last name is Boris so it is not even doing it based on last name. It is based on first name, bam. 

[0:21:14.6] BP: The next goal is to get it down to one initial. I want them to type B. 

[0:21:18.3] MN: Yeah. 

[0:21:20.2] DA: Just auto-completes, yeah. 

[0:21:21.7] MN: Hold on, let me just find out what B does, see how far you’re on. Oh this is going to be hard. Yeah bro, that’s a thing. Maybe I don’t know, maybe do Bori. If I do B-o-r. 

[0:21:31.0] DA: There’s Bobby B. There is Bobby B. on Udemy. The pro trainer and training coach but we’re not here to talk about Bobby B.

[0:21:39.0] MN: We’re here to talk about Boris that’s what it is. 

[0:21:41.7] BP: I hope one day that we can sit down and talk about Bobby when he launches his first course. I’ll be the biggest fan. 

[0:21:47.8] MN: I’ll try. I mean I don’t know what to do. I mean I might have to do it on instantiating a variable. 

[0:21:53.1] BP: There you go. 

[0:21:54.0] MN: But like, “Yo, son check it. Here’s what you’re going to do bro,” and then just like talking that.

[0:21:57.9] DA: Just topping it up. 

[0:21:59.3] MN: I’m chopping out, you chop it on this way but this is how you chop out a string into separate characters. I’m ready. I’m ready to do it. That split method in Java Script, let’s go. I’m down. Let’s do it. 

[0:22:10.5] BP: I’m your biggest fan Bobby. That’s the one. 

[0:22:13.9] MN: I’m going to need it, I’ll tell you that much. 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

[0:22:15.9] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.

[END]

Links and Resources:

Boris Paskhaver on LinkedIn

Boris Paskhaver

Pandas in Action 

Udemy

Dan Abramov’s Redux Course on Egghead

Episode 189

Atomic Habits

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

Stride

Michael Nunez

Michael Nunez on Twitter

David Anderson

David Anderson on Twitter

William Jeffries